Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
SXSW is chaotic, too big for its britches, confusing, and overwhelming. There are long lines for everything. There’s no possible way to grasp the entirety of the thing: at every juncture, multiple competing events scream out to be must-attends. When the crowds spill onto the streets after dark to assault the bars, it feels a bit more Lord of the Flies than meeting of minds.
So if you are fond of the contemplative life by Walden Pond, it’s not for you. But if you like bright lights and the big city, and are willing to submerge yourself in the flow, like a salmon swimming upstream against the rapids into the rush of a snow-melt-fed mountain river downpour, you’ll be fine.
With any event that metastasizes to this level, there’s always an undercurrent of naysayers whispering sellout. This is not wrong. The corporate entanglement that reaches through every nook and cranny of SXSW makes the gathering seem like the second coming of COMDEX, the legendary computer expo that used to be the 800-pound gorilla of the tech sector social season. When you see bicycle-powered pedicabs rolling by with ads for Game of Thrones and Google and Oreo, or venture into one of the huge tents in which watered down drinks are handed out in exchange for the opportunity to mingle with a bunch of corporate communication specialists, it can be a little dispiriting.
But the glory of SXSX Interactive is that it is big enough for you to choose your own narrative. If you want to spend your days hearing about Anonymous and 3D printer hacking and the way cellphone companies are using location data as the ultimate biometric (more on that later!) you can go from dawn to well past dusk without ever listening to a single startup pitch.
OK, that’s a lie. You cannot make it through a day here without hearing a startup pitch. Just standing in line to get into, say, a party sponsored by the Online News Association, will surely deliver you at least three pitches. And that’s OK — it is a legitimate function of this gathering for people with ideas that they want to commercial to talk to the press! And it’s the serendipitous ones that sneak up on you that are often the most interesting.
My point is that the original myth of SXSW, all those cool hacker-types getting together to plot a visionary future, is still alive and well here. When Gabriella Coleman and Quinn Norton appeared on a panel devoted to Anonymous and the Occupy movement, the first mention of the word “Anonymous” generated appreciative hoots and hollers from a robust attending crowd of hundreds. At a gathering sponsored by EFF-Austin, I got a full rundown on efforts to get a bill passed in Texas that would ban warrantless-searches of cellphones from Scott Henson, the operator of venerable Grits for Breakfast. If you care about privacy, about how Big Data is being used against you, about how hackers are more empowered than ever before, about how we can and must use our evolving technologies to pursue social justice, it’s all here — as are the people who care about those things.
So yeah, onto Day 3…
"Californication" (seven seasons)
"Entourage" (eight seasons)
Much like “Californication,” this man-centric show started strong and buzzy -- a perpetual nominee at the Golden Globes and Emmys, and a perceived gender-swapped “Sex and the City.” Then it ground on and on, and what might once have been read as a sophisticated satire of Hollywood materialism became a grinding conveyor belt of self-congratulatory guest-star appearances.
"Will & Grace" (eight seasons)
Hey, did someone say “self-congratulatory guest-star appearances?” Look -- it’s Jennifer Lopez, and Cher, and Janet Jackson, and Madonna! The latter seasons of “Will & Grace” effectively ruined the fun of watching the show in syndication now -- will it be a fun and jaunty early episode, or a later episode in which title characters enact an Ibsen play about having a baby together (really) while Jack and Karen meet one pop star or another? The fact that the show hastened a widespread acceptance of gay people that, then, made the show something of a throwback by the time it ended is one thing; the fact that the show itself seemed uninterested in relying on its actors’ sharp comic timing is quite another.
"The King of Queens" (nine seasons)
This CBS stalwart just kind of kept going, exactly as long as was needed to launch Kevin James’ film career. In the show’s final minutes, a formulaic sitcom became a mile-a-minute soap, with the central characters considering divorce and then having two children.
"Frasier" (11 seasons)
Though it ended strong, "Frasier" had something of the opposite problem as “The King of Queens”: While the CBS comedy chucked a whole bunch of plot at viewers toward the end, NBC’s Emmy magnet stayed stuck in familiar ruts, with Frasier questing endlessly for love and Daphne and Niles in fairly unthrilling domestic bliss. The jokes stayed good, but this maybe could have gone one or two years shorter.
"Weeds" (eight seasons)
As “Homeland” viewers may be learning, Showtime isn’t particularly good at keeping its shows coherent over time. (Maybe this is “Californication”’s issue -- we wouldn’t know!) This show changed settings and, effectively, organizing conceits so many times that by the end, it had few earnest defenders.
"Nip/Tuck" (six seasons)
This FX series, too, changed settings midway through, moving from Miami to Los Angeles four seasons in for no compelling reason. The show’s most gripping subplots had a way of petering out (remember the anticlimactic solution to the mystery of the Carver?), and its bizarre tendencies overtook any sense of fun.
"Glee" (five seasons and counting)
The series has, like its sibling show “Nip/Tuck” (Ryan Murphy created them both), switched locations, moving in large part to New York once its core cast graduated high school. But what’s the point of a high school series when the stars graduate? Despite some lovely moments, the show’s heat seems gone, and attempts to get back into the conversation (the school shooting episode, for instance) have been more desperate and tone-deaf than effective.
"Grey's Anatomy" (10 seasons and counting)
Here’s the thing: By all accounts, “Grey’s Anatomy” is not a creative failure. And it’s still widely watched. But when you begin your life as a world-beating hit, anything else seems somewhat marginal. “Grey’s Anatomy” has shed more regular viewers than many shows will ever hope to get in the first place (same’s true of “Survivor” and latter-day “ER,” to name just a few). Those who stopped watching once the Golden Globe nominations petered out may wonder why the show is still on; loyal viewers know better.
"The Simpsons" (25 seasons and counting)
Like the “Grey’s” doctors, the Springfield clan and their neighbors still draw a crowd. But “The Simpsons” is so omnipresent in syndication and in pop culture that the first-run series seems besides the point (not least because, though there are good episodes here and there, the show’s best days are universally agreed to be behind it -- like way behind it, in the 1990s).
"The Office" (nine seasons)
There was a natural break for this show, where it ought to have ended -- with the departure of lead actor Steve Carell in Season 7. The latter years were a creative fugue state, and as NBC’s Thursday night lineup continued to flatline in the ratings, one-time fans could be forgiven at their surprise that the adventures of Jim and Pam kept on unfolding.
"The X-Files" (nine seasons)
Once one of the show’s leads departs and has to be replaced -- as Steve Carell did on “The Office,” or David Duchovny did here -- the show faces a reckoning; if the lead is so central to the show’s plot as to make people wonder how the show could possibly go on, maybe the show shouldn’t. And even “X-Files” superfans might have been happier with fewer seasons of drawing out the conspiracy string toward a famously unsatisfying ending.